Published December 10, 2012
PORTERVILLE, California – The church bell that rings to announce the deaths of tribal members on the Tule River Indian Reservation in California tolled repeatedly after a man went on a shooting rampage that left a daughter, his mother and her two brothers dead. The suspect died in a shootout with police.
Authorities cornered Hector Celaya, 31, on a country road Sunday about six hours after the Saturday night shootings, which left two of his other children wounded.
Authorities said Celaya was fatally wounded by deputies after he opened fire on them.
In the car with him were two daughters, 8-year-old Alyssa and 5-year-old Linea. One had life-threatening injuries; the other did not.
By Sunday night, authorities confirmed that Alyssa died of her injuries. Police said Celaya had a tattoo of her name on his right leg.
Authorities have not disclosed what motivated Celaya to kill his relatives, who lived on a family compound on the reservation of about 800 people. But tribal members said the former custodian at the reservation's casino had a troubled past.
"He had a real hard life," said Rhoda Hunter, the tribal council secretary. "But all of us do, we all have a hard time. But we try not to let it get the best of us."
Hunter said Celaya's mother was a friend. The Tulare County sheriff's department, which is investigating the case, identified her as 60-year-old Irene Celaya.
The killings stunned the tight-knit tribal community.
The remote reservation relies on the Eagle Mountain Casino for revenues. Each tribal member receives $500 a month, but Hunter said most of the profit is invested into educational programs for the children.
The emergency call came to the reservation's fire department at about 7:45 p.m. Saturday, said Shelby Charley Jr., an engineer and supervisor. He said his crew, which most often attends to people who fall ill at the casino, was shocked by the carnage.
"This is one of those calls that will stick with you for the rest of your life," Charley said.
Charley said his crew immediately discovered a woman and man dead of gunshot wounds, then quickly discovered a young boy with critical wounds.
Minutes later, sheriff's deputies found a third body in an outbuilding that had been set up as a makeshift bedroom. Authorities said the bodies of Irene Celaya and her 61-year-old brother Francisco Moreno were found in the trailer. The body of their 53-year-old brother, Bernard Franco, was in the shed.
The wounded boy was identified as Celaya's 6-year-old son, Andrew.
Deputies found Celaya by tracking his cellphone. A chase ensued. He eventually pulled over in a rural area deep in the heart of citrus country. Celaya opened fire, prompting deputies to return fire, sheriff's spokeswoman Chris Douglass said.
She did not say how many shots were fired, but said Celaya fired his gun "multiple times." Celaya was shot during the exchange of gunfire, Douglass said. He died hours later at a hospital.
It was unclear when Celaya shot his daughters, Douglass said.
Police said Celaya was "known to law enforcement" and "known to use drugs," though Douglass could not provide details.